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The Proving Ground Paperback – December 6, 2011

4.4 out of 5 stars 128 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

An Essay by G. Bruce Knecht

The tragedies of the 1998 Sydney to Hobart Race had a profound impact on every participant. Writing The Proving Ground was also a big deal for me. It was my first book and I spent a tremendous amount of time with the people who became its main characters. Some of them became friends. No, I didn’t stray from my journalistic approach in telling their stories, but my role did evolve into something beyond that of a purely independent observer. The book also introduced me to Sydney. I came to believe, as I still do, that it is the world’s best city.

For all of those reasons, I jumped at the chance to write a new Afterword for the tenth anniversary edition of the book. It gave me a chance to catch up with all of the characters, including Larry Ellison, whose Hobart experience led to his campaign to win sailing’s ultimate prize, the America’s Cup.

Not every after-story was positive. John Gibson spent 29 hours on a flimsy life raft after the boat he had been on sank on its way to Hobart. Before he was rescued, three of his fellow passengers were swept away by an enormous wave and they were never seen again. Having visited Gibbo at his home and sailed with him on Sydney Harbor, I thought he was a good guy, albeit a quirky one. But then he decided to sue the owner of the boat that had sunk. The suit unfairly criticized a man that I knew to be a hero. Gibbo, a lawyer who was prosecuting the suit himself, told me he was doing it for the widows, but that was not entirely true because he had included himself as one of the plaintiffs.

The saddest story was the suicide death of Matthew Rynan, a young man everyone called Beaver. Just 19 when he sailed in the race, he too endured a harrowing experience on a life raft. When I met him a few years after the race, he told me he was still haunted by the memory. "It left me with a weakness somewhere inside of me," he said. I don’t believe his Hobart ordeal caused him to take his life. However, from talking to him and others, it was clear that the youngest survivors were having more difficulty dealing with the aftermath than their elders.

Well before Larry Ellison made it to safety, he promised himself that he would never sail in another Hobart--or in any other race that takes place in open ocean. But he was not about to give up competitive sailing. And when members of his Hobart crew who were also members of Team New Zealand, the then holder of the America’s Cup, told him they would be willing to defect from their national team, Ellison quickly signed them up for a Cup team of his own. For the man who was named for Ellis Island, the idea of returning the Cup to the United States was irresistible. After he did so in 2010, he announced that the next competition, in 2013, would be sailed in San Francisco.

From Publishers Weekly

Coolness under extreme pressure marks not only the subject of Wall Street Journal correspondent Knecht's highly praised book about the ill-fated 1998 Sydney to Hobart yacht race but also its writing and reading. Knecht, a sailor as well as a journalist, uses good journalism and novelistic flourishes to tell the story of one of the worst disasters in modern yachting history. Of the 115 boats that started under clear skies in Sydney, just 43 would finish. Many sailors lost their lives, while others were rescued by airborne heroics after the fleet had been ripped apart by unforecast winds and 80-foot-high waves. Matching Knecht's cool professionalism, veteran actor Stanley Tucci who has himself played journalists as diverse as Walter Winchell and Joe Mitchell reads the story with a minimum of melodrama, letting the words and deeds of those involved re-create the danger, horror and final triumph of man over nature. Simultaneous release with Little, Brown hardcover (Forecasts, May 28).

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (December 6, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1612181430
  • ISBN-13: 978-1612181431
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (128 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #513,505 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
As an experienced offshore sailor, I found Knecht's book absolutely riveting. He sets out to examine why it is that already highly-successful people (who don't necessarily have anything to prove) are tempted to put their lives at stake competing in a yacht race. He then goes on to describe and examine what went wrong, and why. He deals with the meteorology, the nature of the yachts, the personalities of the crews, and their reactions to severe stress and, in some cases, disaster.
Offshore sailors know why we do it anyway: racing yachts is exciting and challenging. Knecht reports impartially on the attitudes and judgement capacities of those he interviewed. He asks all the right questions, and passes no judgement on the answers. He does not attempt to draw conclusions, and makes no recommendations. He reports, and well.
Non-sailors will enjoy this book because it is so damn exciting. They will be amazed - maybe horrified as well as stirred - at some of the characters and events described.
Sailors will enjoy it too, recognising events and personalities that we have all seen before, but maybe on a less extreme scale and under less extreme circumstances. Sailors SHOULD read this book because it will give them a better understanding of the well-worn maxim that "what CAN go wrong sooner or later WILL go wrong". Then they may be better prepared for that awful event, but it still won't stop them going to sea!
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Format: Hardcover
This book should appeal mostly to people who like rollicking good sea stories and also to yacht racers who want and need to get a better understanding of the terrible tragedy that was the '98 Sidney Hobart Race.
For the sea story lovers, this book is much better than "The Perfect Storm" by Sebastian Junger because a sea story (or any story for that matter) should have a begining, a middle and an ending. "The Perfect Storm" had a good beginning, a better middle but no ending. No one knows what heroism kept the Anita Gayle afloat and what cowardice or misfortune caused her to sink. Fortunately, in the '98 Sidney-Hobart race there were enough survivors to tell the story from beginning to end and author Bruce Knecht has recorded the stories in a very readable account. Yacht racing terms have been defined for the uniniated but not to the point of being pedantic. This is a most interesting account of the behavior of people under tremendous stress.
For the yacht racers, Bruce Knecht has chosen to focus primarily on 3 boats. The first, a heavy, conservative cruising boat (Winston Churchill) which sank before encountering the height of the storm. The second, a 15 year old IOR design boat (Sword of Orion) which was rolled and was literally coming apart at the seams but which provided a floating refuge until the crew could be rescued. And third, a modern light weight boat (Syonara)which, although suffering structural damage and delaminations, went on to finish (and win)the race. "The Proving Ground" is a good companion book to Rob Mundle's "Fatal Storm" which is a broader over view of the whole race but which lacks the depth and insight of "The Proving Ground".
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Format: Hardcover
This is a tough review to write for several reasons.
I love the sea, I love stories about the sea. I also competed in the 98' Hobart race on a 34 foot yacht. All of the books about this event do their best to describe the extent of what happened. If you read any of the books about this race and find yourself thinking that 'no way could it have been that bad - they must have been halucinating'... then I promise you that you are wrong. It was that bad. It was the most horrendous thing I have ever gone though in my entire life.
All of the three books about the race which I have bought have photos of some of the waves - and the damage done to some of the yachts. Bear in mind that these photos were almost entirely taken the day AFTER the night of the 27th. The worst part of the storm came over our yacht from about 8 pm until 3 am the next morning. I promise you it was a very very long 7 hours. By the time the photos were taken, I reckon the seas would have died down by at least 35 - 40%. I can remember holding on to the side-rails at one point during the peak of the storm, looking up and seeing waves above the top of the mast... on both sides of the yacht. Our wind guage read to 80 knots. The needle was off the end of the gauge for a hell of a long time.
Having said that, it took almost a full year before I would race offshore again. I am going back for this year's race. There is some unfinished business that I have with the Bass Strait - and I want to get to Hobart for the infamous "Quiet little drink". Hobart races are hard, that's quite frankly is the whole point. Without the challenge, nobody would go.This literary version of the race is good - don't get me wrong, but I firmly believe that Rob Mundle's "Fatal Storm" will in years to come be regarded as the definative text of the tragedy which played out in front of us. Knecht's book is good, however the Mundle book sent shivers down my spine as the memories it generated replayed themselves.
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Format: Hardcover
I read The Proving Ground in one night ... I just couldn't put it down. And I didn't mind that I was exhausted from lack of sleep the next day because I so enjoyed the read. Bruce Knecht not only has written a detailed account of the horrific experiences of the yachtsmen on three boats in the Sydney-Hobart race, but he has captured what it was like for the sailors to endure the ordeal ... the fear, the heroic sacrifices, the physical endurance, and the struggle over having to make decisions that could result in fatal errors (which some did).
As an experienced ocean sailor, I can say that Mr. Knecht has done an excellent job of portraying life at sea on a racing boat, without getting overly technical. I recommend this book to anyone interested in a gripping adventure story with characters who are both heroic and flawed, and for the men who died, are also all too real.
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